Simply learning of a genetic risk can alter a person’s physiology, a recent study found, causing people to perform less well on exercise tests or altering hormones that indicate fullness after a meal.
By Amy Adams
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, according to a recent study by researchers at Stanford University.
The team, led by Alia Crum, assistant professor of psychology, found that when people were told of a genetic propensity for either obesity or lower exercise capacity, it altered the way their bodies responded either to a meal or to exercise. The work was published Dec. 10 in Nature Human Behavior.
“Receiving genetic information doesn’t just make you more informed,” Crum said. “What this study shows is that it can also have a physiological impact on your body in a way that actually changes your overall risk profile.”
Crum and the study’s lead author, graduate student Bradley Turnwald, said that the results don’t suggest that DNA testing is bad or good, just that when delivering information, genetic counselors or personalized genetic testing companies need to be aware that the mere knowledge of the test result could influence a person’s risk.